So I went down to the Episcopal church nearby to take part in their noon Eucharist for Ash Wednesday. I'll be going to my own church tonight, but I went to this neighborhood service as a sort of 'freebie.' Just a chance to sit and not feel even a little responsible for any part of the service.
It was lovely. About thirty people there in a tiny chapel (not the main sanctuary). The homily was beautiful--a gentle, warm invitation to slow down, notice God, open ourselves to God's relationship with us in the days ahead. It was like soothing balm after the sandpaper scriptures for the day.
The lectionary folks were really at their most brilliant/persnickity selves in their selection of the day's texts, weren't they? Especially the gospel for the day! It starts out with a bang:
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."So, what do you do with that?
After the service, I walked down to the Thai place and got some lunch to bring home for D and me. As I stood considering what to get, the woman behind the counter scrambled to get a napkin for me: "You've got something on your head there," she said, kindly offering me the napkin.
"It's okay." I grinned at her, "They're ashes."
"Oh! I'm so sorry!" she said, clearly embarrassed. I assured her it was okay, and laughed with her. "I just got them." I apologized, with the gospel text still ringing in my ears. As if to say, "I don't mean to display my piety! My bad!"
When I got home, I rubbed off the boldness of the ash. But I couldn't quite bring myself to remove all of it. I so rarely get to express my faith in a physical sense. I was loathe to erase this particular embodiment of my faith.
So my question, I guess, is: In a culture that believes faith is a private matter, might the counter-cultural nature of 'displaying your piety' be more radical than keeping it hidden? How long do you keep the ashes on your head?